Empathy: The Antidote To Bullying


PHOTO: Getty Images

October is national Bullying Prevention month. In an op-ed I recently wrote for the Huffington Post, I discussed the growing prevalence of bullying in America and our seemingly unsuccessful response as a society. Sometimes it seems as though the rhetoric that surrounds bullying has yet to prove helpful to these children.

It's not easy to admit that our approaches to bullying have been ineffective amidst the clamoring of slogans, banners, posters, media coverage, web sites and celebrities.

Empathy has little to do with rallies, reports, celebrities or anti-defamation league banners. Empathy is a quiet, powerful work. Empathy is the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings, or in simple colloquialism "walking in someone else’s shoes."

Empathy is about "connecting." Bullying, conversely, is about "disconnection."

To develop a community ethos of empathy we must start with modeling kindness, compassion and acceptance. If we want empathy and inclusion in schools then parents must model empathy within the family, because the "demonstration" of empathy has a greater impact than "instruction."

Angela is a pretty, 10-year-old girl with a neuromuscular disease. Since Angela has been confined to a wheelchair she lost her girlfriends. They no longer interact with her at recess; they talk about her behind her back. What might happen if the PTO moms bring in 20 pairs of different shoes from the thrift store for the class to wear, a set of AFOs (i.e. braces), a manual wheelchair, a power wheelchair and a walker? "Walk in my shoes" and students try to understand and imaginatively enter into someone else's feelings for a day.

What if our national dialogue were to encourage parents to mindfully model empathy before their child?

What if the same dialogue extended itself to push our schools to develop lesson plans reinforcing social and emotional learning via an empathy-based curriculum?

We must change from re-acting against bullying, to pro-acting for empathy. We change our culture by how we interact relationally with others, not by sloganizing.

On October 30, Mix It Up at Lunch Day invites school students to cross social comfort zones and sit with someone they don’t know at lunch. Let's exercise our compassion and empathy muscles. Let’s change from re-acting against bullying, to pro-acting for empathy.